Brittney Griner has her Baylor Lady Bears on the verge of an NCAA Women's Basketball title. After losing to eventual champion Texas A&M in the 2011 Regional Finals, Griner has led the Bears to a 39-0 record and a showdown with Notre Dame (35-3) in tonight’s championship game.
The journey isn’t quite that simple, though.
Griner first came under scrutiny her freshman year in a game vs. Texas Tech. Frustrated by the physical play, Griner punched Jordan Barncastle and was ejected from the game.
Baylor coach Kim Mulkey made it clear she would not tolerate such behavior. "There's no place for that in sports. It was ugly for women's basketball. It was ugly that coaches were on the court, that benches cleared, and I will take care of that with my team."
While Griner has grown beyond the mistake in 2010, scrutiny still follows her. She stands 6’8” tall, making her a visible target. Her ability to dunk a basketball draws even more attention, prompting comments about her size and appearance on social network sites and from fans of opposing teams.
But Griner seems to take the negativity in stride. Brittney Griner on being insulted:
I'll go and search my name on Twitter, to see some of the things they say. They're mean. But it doesn't bother me.
My teammates get really mad at some stuff. I'm the calm one. I know it's not true. I really don't care, they try to get in my head because they're trying to stop me. When I go to a game and hear yelling, they're trying to get in my head. It's not going to work really. You'll see me smiling.
Averaging 23.1 points and 9.4 rebounds a game and being named the AP Player of the Year can also provide a nice mental advantage.
The Irish will task Devereaux Peters and Natalie Achonwa with slowing down Griner, but they know they can’t contain her. They will turn to point guard Skylar Diggins and her 16.3 points per game average and ask her to keep pace with Griner on the scoreboard.
But Diggins will have her own matchup issue with Baylor sophomore point guard Odyssey Sims. She likes to drive into the paint on offense and is relentless on defense, and Sims has already shown she can play with Diggins. She scored 25 points and had six steals in the Lady Bears’ 94-81 victory over Notre Dame in the preseason Women’s NIT Final.
More important, Griner showed what she can do against this lineup. She had 32 points, 14 rebounds and five blocked shots in the first matchup. Look for a similar performance tonight as Notre Dame will lose the championship game in the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament for the second year in a row.